Military centre fuels fears over US role

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 September, 2007, 12:00am

A US$14 million centre being built for the exclusive use of US soldiers inside the headquarters of the Philippine armed forces in Mindanao has sparked renewed controversy over the role of the US in the country.

Legislator Crispin Beltran has asked the House of Representatives to investigate the building, which is being constructed by Global Contingency Services of Texas inside the regional headquarters of the armed forces in Zamboanga.

The Philippine constitution specifically bans 'foreign military bases, troops, or facilities', but the US and the Philippines have a visiting forces agreement that allows US forces to provide military training.

'Will they allow on-site inspections and will they surrender information regarding the extent and coverage of the construction activities?' Mr Beltran asked.

US diplomats in Manila have described the US$14.4 million facility as temporary.

But analysts said the cost of the building meant it could not just be intended for US soldiers training Philippine troops to battle a few hundred Muslim extremists in the south.

University of the Philippines professor Roland Simbulan, who has written a book on American bases in the Philippines, said he believed the centre was part of America's regional security. He noted Mindanao was close to two Muslim countries - Indonesia, where the US military has no presence, and Malaysia, where it is confined to port visits.

'They are using Abu Sayyaf just as an excuse to be there,' he said, referring to the militant group that has been linked to al-Qaeda.

Herbert Docena, research associate of Focus on the Global South, a left-wing think-tank in Bangkok, agreed. 'I have real doubts that Abu Sayyaf poses a threat to the US; I really have doubts the structures are aimed at them,' Mr Docena said. 'I think it's a regional forward base.'

The US embassy's deputy spokeswoman, Karen Schinnerer, said the project was for the US soldiers' 'medical, logistical and administrative services'.